New Delhi: A fact-finding team that visited Manipur last month has claimed that despite intense divisions between the Meiteis and Kukis, both communities believe that the government has played a key role in the state’s ethnic violence.
“The broad consensus across different communities is that the government, both at the Centre and the State, have played a principal role in the lead up to the violence and the continuance of the violence for so long,” reads the team’s report, which was released last week.
It goes on to say that the Meitei community has “broadly aligned” itself with the state government and pins a greater share of responsibility on the Union government, and that the Kuki community finds the state government more culpable instead.
The eight-member team visited Manipur between August 10 and 14 and was constituted by the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.
Probing the two communities’ views on why the violence began, the report says that according to the Kukis, there was a “conscious attempt” to trigger violence by Meitei chauvinist groups, who they said torched the Anglo-Kuki War memorial at Churachandpur.
“Most Kukis believe that the attacks on them were pre-planned and orchestrated by the Arambai Tenggol and the Meitei Leepun with full support of the state government, and came at a time when the Union government was days away from declaring [sixth schedule] status to the hill areas of Manipur,” the report adds.
The Wire has reported on how the Union home affairs ministry was planning to finalise a peace accord along the lines of the sixth schedule – which provides for autonomous territories – with Kuki insurgent groups before the ethnic violence put paid to these plans.
The fact-finding team’s report then says that for the Meiteis, the larger reason behind the ethnic violence was the Kukis’ backlash to three state government policies: its “clamp down on illegal infiltration of Kukis from Myanmar, the attempts to stop illegal forest encroachments by Kukis and the war waged on drugs by the state government targeting Kuki poppy cultivators.”
“Underlying this narrative of the conflict, is the strong belief that Meiteis are original inhabitants of Manipur, while the Kukis are late-comers,” it adds.
It also says that the economic disparity between the two communities was “accentuated by the lopsided and valley-centric policies of the BJP government”, referring to Manipur’s Meitei-majority Imphal Valley.
Having visited the relief camps in the state – over 60,000 people were displaced as a result of the ethnic violence – the team found that despite varying levels of state support for Meitei and Kuki-run camps, hurdles to accessing nutritious food are present across the board.
“It is a matter of grave concern that the situation persists even three months after the outbreak of the violence,” its report says.
The team also said that while the state government facilitated the admission of displaced Meitei students into schools and colleges near their relief camps, the education of Kuki students – displaced or otherwise – is “under serious crisis”.
Some Kuki students have turned to the rest of India for their higher studies after finding themselves unable to access their Imphal-based universities, The Wire reported recently.
Regarding demands made by either community following the violence, the report notes that the Kuki community has “taken a clear stand that [a] separate administration is the only way out”.
“On the other hand, the Meitei community demands that the withdrawal of [the Suspension of Operations] agreement, protection of [the] territorial integrity of Manipur and strict action against forest encroachments, Kuki militancy and poppy cultivation and the demand for [a] separate state to be dropped,” the report says.
The team has also recorded a displaced Meitei person’s demand for the removal of the Assam Rifles from the state.
Meitei civil society organisations have accused the Assam Rifles of siding with the Kukis during the ongoing ethnic conflict in Manipur.
As for who is responsible for the violence, the team finds the BJP’s double-engine government “squarely to blame”.
“The resolution of this crisis ought to be considered within the broader context of restoration of peace in the state, and fixation of accountability on the twin-BJP governments. Accountability must start from the top, and Chief Minister Biren Singh, who has not only overseen but has fed into the polarising narrative that culminated in such unprecedented violence and segregation must resign,” it alleges.
It also claimed that the double-engine government was following a policy of “divide and rule”, having “orchestrated an ethnic divide which they will communally exploit”.
“This government has no legitimacy whatsoever to continue,” it said.